Libya: Horrific attack targeting refugees and migrants at detention centre must be investigated as a war crime

A violent attack by fighters who opened fire on refugees and migrants at a detention centre on the outskirts of Tripoli highlights the urgent need to ensure civilians are protected and perpetrators are held to account, said Amnesty International after speaking to eye witnesses.
Armed men raided the Qasr Ben Ghashir detention centre, south of Tripoli on 23 April and shot a number of the people being held there. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) at least 12 people were hospitalized as a result of their injuries.
Video footage reviewed by Amnesty International shows distressed refugees and migrants in the aftermath of the shooting, some of them screaming. In one of the videos, three people are shown with apparent gunshot wounds. Another video shows several injured people lying on the floor, their bandages soaked with blood.
“This was an utterly reprehensible attack. Direct attacks on civilians are serious violations of international humanitarian law and constitute war crimes. There can be no justification for targeting defenceless civilians. These refugees and migrants should not even be detained in the first place. This incident demonstrates the urgent need for all refugees and migrants to be immediately released from these horrific detention centres where they are held arbitrarily in inhuman conditions and routinely subjected to abuse,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
“All parties to the conflict must protect migrants and refugees from further attacks and ensure that those injured urgently receive adequate medical care. The authorities detaining them and all sides must allow humanitarian organizations to access the facility as a matter of urgency, and release them to a place of safety.
“This horrific attack also makes patently clear the urgency for EU member states to ensure safe routes out of Libya for refugees and migrants trapped in the country.”
One of the people detained at the Qasr Ben Ghashir detention centre described their desperate situation to Amnesty International and made a plea for emergency assistance from humanitarian organizations.
“We are more than 600 people here [in Qasr Ben Ghashir]. Still now we are at risk. We want evacuation directly [out of] Libya. Please help us, help us,” he said.
The reasons behind the attack remain unclear and the identity of the perpetrators is yet to be established. Amnesty International spoke to one witness who said he recognized the logo of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA) on a vehicle used by the attackers.
However, another detainee told Amnesty International that it was unclear who the attackers were. He said the armed men entered the detention centre, confiscated people’s phones and then began shooting. The injured were taken away in ambulances last night, he added. He told Amnesty International this morning that those detained still felt unsafe and fear further attacks. He also said that no humanitarian organizations had been to the centre since the attack.
Libya’s Government of National Accord has issued a statement condemning the incident and accusing forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar of carrying out the attack. It also stated that preparations were underway to transfer the migrants and refugees to areas away from the fighting.
Amnesty International is calling for an urgent investigation into the attack.
“This attack is yet another horrific illustration of the need for international justice and meaningful accountability for serious violations of international law and possible war crimes being committed on a regular basis across Libya. The International Criminal Court, in particular, should expand its investigations to cover current crimes,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.
UNHCR has announced that efforts are underway to urgently relocate the approximately 890 refugees and migrants held at Qasr Ben Ghashir to safer areas.
There are at least 3,600 refugees and migrants trapped in detention centres in areas of conflict around Tripoli – affected areas or areas at risk of violence, according to UNHCR.
To date, UNHCR has moved 541 vulnerable refugees from detention centres of Ain Zara, Qasr Ben Ghashir, Abu Salim and Janzour to its Gathering and Departure Facility in central Tripoli.
Overall, since the Libyan National Army launched its offensive to take over Tripoli on 4 April there have been at least 90 civilian casualties including 21 civilian deaths, according to UN Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
For more information or to arrange an interview please contact:
Lucy Scholey, Amnesty International Canada (English), + 613-744-7667 ext. 236,